Peter Bailey, Andrea Bryant, Abby Ching, Annette Fisher, Susan Henderson, Tessa Ivison, Peter Larmour, Caroline Lemerle, Louise Maurer, Greg McAnulty, Yvette Perine, Brian Rope, Aditi Sargeant, Eva Schroeder, Sari Sutton, Beata Tworek, Grant Winkler
Standing on shoulders – looking far
For a city inaugurated in the first years of the twentieth century, photography – the emergent and quickly dominant medium of the new age – was always going to be important in shaping the way Canberra was depicted and understood.
The camera was there to record the first flurry of official events on the dry open paddocks with the official parties in their stiff regalia and the great and good standing awkwardly in the blinding sunlight. In the late 1920’s, the precise compositions taken on glass plate negatives by Mildenhall, carefully cropped out that wide view to focus on the first government offices, the gracious arches of the Sydney Building and the new plantings that started to give the nascent capital its form.
At the same time, Harold Cazneaux found simple drama in the high billowing clouds above the gentle rolling hills and printed them in subtle tones on silvery paper. From the late 1950s, Max Dupain’s crisp architectural documentation, made usually on commission for the National Capital Development Commission, the Australian National University or the occasional corporate client, depicted a city of hard and confident surfaces with, very occasionally, a figure to indicate scale.
By the early 1960s when it really came time to attract more people to come and make their lives in Canberra, commissioned photographic imagery switched to a dominance of smiling families in new suburban homes, lakeside picnics under a canopy of pink blossoms and bustling modern shopping centres with all modern conveniences.
But it was at this time too, that the independent eye of artists working with photography began to see Canberra in other ways. These kinds of works are a small but growing area within Canberra Museum and Gallery’s collection, and some have been displayed within CMAG’s Seeing Canberra exhibition curated by Virginia Rigney and Sita McAlpine (on display 8 March 2020 – 24 July 2021). This show presents four distinct chapters in the city’s history to explore how artists have made work in response to this place.
The Canberra Re-Seen project developed as a partnership between PhotoAccess and Canberra Museum and Gallery as a way of using these collection works and the exhibition as a pathway for local practitioners to undertake their own process of reviewing and conceptualising how they see the city.
The project comprised three, four-week workshops: City of People, Secret Scenes and Ambivalent Landscapes, each focusing on the work of one of three artists – Marzena Wasikowska, Ted Richards and Ian North. Their practice has been the shoulders to stand on, to look further both inwardly and outward. Each series began in the gallery space itself, with the focus artists present and able to discuss their images with the insight of a resident of the city, particularly as each had produced their work as private, independent projects without the intervention of a commissioning agent. With the physical presence of the works on the walls, it was possible to consider scale, print quality, colour, tone and the differences in intention and effect between painting and photography of similar themes.
During the late 1960’s, as the city seemed to double in size overnight, Ted Richards ran a busy camera shop and photographic business in Manuka. Outside of his regular work for media and the inevitable weddings and portraits, he took his medium format and 35mm cameras out and found extraordinary moments that were otherwise overlooked in conventional narratives of the developing capital.
At the workshop, Richards was able to tell the stories of those images; why a tree behind the Melbourne Building was garlanded with worn out bicycle tyres, how he came across a stoic older couple carting firewood on their bicycles through grounds of the university and the one-shot moment of finding a bird’s eye view composition of a couple dancing within the grids and diagonals of the tiled basement floor of the newly opened Monaro Mall. With workshop leader Wouter Van der Voorde, Richards was able to walk the workshop participants through the streets of Civic and find each one of these original locations and discuss how being quietly alert to what is around you is a way to finding such images.
Ian North kept his Canberra Landscapes series made in 1981 from public view while he worked in a curatorial role in the Department of Photography in the early years of the National Gallery of Australia. With his rare access to the large scale new colour topographic work coming from Germany and from America, North refined his own way of making images of Canberra to show joyless and banal suburban streets under a cloudless blue bleached sky, seeing their empty perfection as monuments to the utopian experiments in urban planning for which Canberra was incessantly derided. North was able to participate in a Zoom session with students from his home in Adelaide and discuss these now forty-year-old images that look eerily contemporary. Led by local artist David Hempenstall, over the workshop period, the participants headed to Canberra’s newest crop of suburbs and were able to bring sensitivity of future imagining and suburban dreaming to these landscapes.
Marzena Wasikowska began her series of family portraits in 2010 with Jess Danny and Mia in 2010 within the privacy of her own family’s backyard. With its seats and shade, it was clearly a place of many happy gatherings of artists and friends, children, and family. The image’s formal composition references Manet’s famous painting Le Déjeuner L'herbe with the artist’s then heavily pregnant daughter Jess, taking the character of the nude. Manet’s shockingly ironic image becomes tenderly and perfectly natural in this new suburban context.
Wasikowska has continued her portrait series every year since, with recent COVID-19 restrictions bringing new challenges to placing each family member within the frame. She led a discussion about how her thinking has evolved to take these intimate portraits in the context of a particular place and the way that they can speak of their time as well as emotional relationships between the subjects and herself as artist. Over the weeks of the workshop Wasikowska worked with participants to encourage this kind of depth of thinking and to challenge the dominance of landscape that has largely prevailed in image making of Canberra. The participants became so involved in this process that they requested the workshop be extended by another 4 weeks.
In this unusual period of limited opportunities for travel, this workshop series seems to have come at the right time. The participants produced a striking array of works, with a selection of their total portfolios curated by Wouter Van de Voorde to create the Canberra Re-Seen exhibition. Propelled by the rigor of the process undertaken over the past months, together, these works reflect a new level diversity of perspectives and offer a deeper consideration of relationship to the place that is both National Capital and home.
Virginia Rigney is a Curator, writer and creative producer. Born in Canberra, like many of her generation
she left the city after her education and worked in a range of museums and galleries in Australia and the UK.
She returned to Canberra in 2018 to work as Senior Curator at CMAG.
List of Works
10. Caroline Lemerle, Braddon @ 6.35pm – 6.55pm !!, 2021, Inkjet print, 594 x 420 mm, NFS
11. Grant Winkler, Untitled, 2021, Inkjet print, 487 x 330 mm, NFS
12. Sari Sutton, Untitled, 2021, Inkjet print, 450 x 300 mm, NFS
13. Annette Fisher, 4 Abstracts from Canberra Re-seen, 2021, Silver gelatin prints, 200 x 250 mm, edition 1 of 2, $250
14. Andrea Bryant, Maria, 2021, 2021, Inkjet fine art print, 500 x 700 mm, edition 1 of 5, $150
15. Tessa Ivison, Canberra Pastoral #1, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 254 x 203 mm, NFS
16. Tessa Ivison, Canberra Pastoral #2, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 254 x 203 mm, NFS
17. Tessa Ivison, Canberra Pastoral #3, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 254 x 203 mm, NFS
18. Susan Henderson, Cotter Picnic, 2021, Archival inkjet print, 180 x 130 mm, $120
19. Aditi Sargeant, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 200 x 250 mm, NFS
20. Beata Tworek, Ambivalent Collages, 2021, C-print, various sizes, edition 1 of 5, $300
21. Eva Schroeder, Metamorphosis, 2021, Archival print on hahnemuhle photo rag, 1200 x 600 mm, edition 1 of 5, $390
22. Louise Maurer, Weetangera II, 2021, Inkjet print on cotton rag, 523 x 500 mm, NFS
23. Annette Fisher, The Woman on Telstra Tower, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 200 x 250 mm, edition 1 of 2, $185
24. Annette Fisher, Peter, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 200 x 250 mm, edition 1 of 2, NFS
25. Susan Henderson, Crossing the Cotter, 2021, Archival inkjet print, 600 x 420 mm, edition 1 of 10, $450
26. Brian Rope, Braddon Nightlife, 2021, Inkjet print on ilford galerie prestige gold fibre, 329 x 483 mm, $200
27. Abby Ching, Lonsdale Roaster, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 203 x 254 mm edition 1 of 3, NFS
28. Abby Ching, Woden Library, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 203 x 254 mm, edition 1 of 3, NFS
29. Peter Bailey, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 200 x 250 mm, NFS
30. Peter Bailey, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 200 x 250 mm, NFS
31. Abby Ching, Street Crossing, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 203 x 254 mm, edition 1 of 3, NFS
32. Caroline Lemerle, Throsby Dream House, 2021, Canson platine fibre rag, 420 x 297 mm, NFS
33. Caroline Lemerle, Throsby At Play, 2021, Canson platine fibre rag, 420 x 297 mm, NFS
34. Greg McAnulty, Pasta Making Day, 2021, Inkjet print, 290 x 200 mm, NFS
35. Peter Bailey, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 250 x 200 mm, NFS
36. Aditi Sargeant, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 250 x 200 mm, NFS
37. Sari Sutton, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 250 x 200 mm, NFS
38. Peter Lamour, Southern Anaglyph, 2021, Dye sublimation on aluminium, 420 x 297 mm, NFS
39. Brian Rope, Keeping Clear, 2021, Inkjet print on kodak premium gloss, 210 x 210mm, $150
40. Sari Sutton, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 300 x 400 mm, NFS
41. Yvette Perine, Whitlam, 2021, Inkjet print, 420 x 300 mm, NFS
42. Yvette Perine, Untitled, 2021, Inkjet print, 420 x 300 mm, NFS
43. Sari Sutton, Untitled, 2021, Silver gelatin print, 300 x 400 mm, NFS